Micro enterprise success Featured

11:17am EDT November 20, 2003
What is a micro enterprise? A micro enterprise has been defined as a business with five or less employees requiring less than $35,000 in start-up capital.

According to the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, small business is the backbone of the U.S. economy, accounting for 53 percent of all jobs. Though often overlooked, the smallest of these firms -- self-employed individuals and micro enterprises employing fewer than 10 workers -- are playing an increasingly vital role.

The SBA reports that while firms of five to 500 employees in all industries experienced a net loss of more than 2 million jobs from 1989 to 1991, firms with fewer than five employees experienced a net increase of more than 2.6 million jobs.

There are an estimated 2 million micro entrepreneurs in America today. As the owner of one for the past 10 years, I know the challenges associated with juggling all aspects of a small business without the depth of support and resources present in a larger company.

Critical to our success is the ability to develop support mechanisms and relationships with other service providers that provide a virtual staff.

My virtual staff includes a bookkeeper, accountant, graphic designer, public relations consultant and attorney. Interestingly, four of the five are owners of other micro enterprises. The key to success with a virtual staff is to create a close loyal group of advisers who can guide you as you run your business and assist you in those areas that are not your core competencies.

I can read a balance sheet, but I'd rather not create one.

Developing support mechanisms is a second critical component for micro enterprises. Organizations like COSE create a "virtual purchasing department" which enable us to buy products and services (i.e. health care, office supplies, check recovery services) with the purchasing clout of a large organization. COSE's networking programs and advertising opportunities provide us with a virtual marketing department, and we have a virtual government affairs department continually working on our behalf in Columbus and Washington, D.C.

Our success as micro enterprises in the United States and our region has created stability through the economic downturn. We're fortunate in Northeast Ohio to have a strong network of organizations that provide us with the support and resources we need to be successful.

Jeanne Coughlin is president of The Coughlin Group, Inc. a company that provides behavior and values hiring assessments, training to improve teamwork and communication and coaching to entrepreneurs. She is author of the book, "The Rise of Women Entrepreneurs: People, Processes and Global Trends," (Greenwood Publishing, 2002) and is the incoming chairman of COSE.